Sunday, June 28, 2015

Rain barrels!

So... remember this picture?

Hey hey, what have we here?!

I got these three barrels from the local Coca-Cola bottling plant (free!) on June 2, right before I embarked on my two-week adventure in the sagebrush.  I have always wanted a rain barrel, and with all the planters on my deck I decided that now is the time.

Then work exploded into busy-ness, and the weather was horrendously hot, and the project stagnated.
About a week ago, I had a chance to get started.

These barrels are the type that have two bungs that screw into the top, rather than a complete lid that comes off.

The tops of the barrels, that will become the bottoms

Quite fortuitously, the bungs have a central recess that is threaded, and matches the threads on standard PVC!  So I started by drilling out the middle of one bung from each barrel.

Drilling the bungs

That left a threaded hole that I could screw a PVC elbow into.  I sealed the bungs and elbows liberally with caulk.  Hopefully that will keep everything watertight, since the tops of the barrels (with the bungs) will be on the bottom in the finished setup.

Bungs all sealed, elbows installed and sealed

In addition to the threaded elbows, I also got the bits and pieces for the manifold system that will link all three barrels together.  They will obviously be connected with lengths of straight pipe.  This whole system is 3/4 inch Schedule 40 PVC.

I didn't construct the manifold yet at this point, because I needed to get the barrels in place to determine the pipe lengths.

The bits of the manifold

The next step was to construct a platform for the barrels.  Each barrel will get a base of four cinder blocks.  I bought the blocks last weekend, then the project stalled again for a week.

Blocks for the platform

The reason for the stall was that I was dreading clearing and leveling the space.  This is my west side yard, just off the back deck.  It's been really hot and I didn't want to muck around with digging out a forest of cocklebur bushes and hefting cinder blocks around.  Excuses excuses.

Side yard before...

I had built this task up in my mind into something much worse than it ended up being.  Once I went out and, you know, actually LOOKED at the space again, I decided it wasn't so bad.  I really wanted to get the barrels installed.

So today I tackled it.  It was 106° F (41° C) this afternoon, and I was literally dripping with sweat, but by golly, I got it done.  

However, taking pictures was suddenly much less important, so sorry about that.

I chopped and dug the cockleburs (there were only two, but the roots went down a good two and a half feet), raked and pulled the rest of the weeds, and leveled the ground.  I raked gravel over the area.  I pounded the gravel firm with a maul and a board.  I went and stood in the sprinkler for a while.

I set up the cinder blocks and leveled them (with some adjustment of the gravel base).  I put the barrels on the blocks and measured for the pieces of the manifold.  I cut the pipe for the manifold and dry-fit everything together.  It all worked, so I took it all apart and put it back together with PVC primer and cement.  I stood back and admired my handiwork.

Support blocks leveled, barrels mounted, and manifold constructed

Then I went and stood in the sprinkler for a while again.

So now I had three upside-down barrels linked together, with an outlet on the bottom, but no way to get water into them.

For that I needed a downspout diverter.

The downspout diverter

This fits into the existing downspout, and diverts water into the barrels until the barrels are full, then the hose fills up and the water overflows back to the downspout.  Pretty spiffy.

Installing this required cutting into the downspout, notching the lower section, and setting the gizmo in the gap.  Then a hose connects the diverter to the barrel, via a hole I drilled in what was originally the bottom, but is now the top.

That pretty much finished the system, but since these are sealed barrels, there has to be some way for the air to escape as they fill with water.  To solve that, I drilled a small hole in the top of each of the barrels, ran a length of aquarium air line tubing from that hole up along side the downspout, and sealed around the hole/tubing with caulk.  As long as the top of the airline tubing is above the level of the diverter, it's still in effect a sealed system as far as the diverter knows, and the diversion function remains effective. 

And voila!

Ta Da! Finished 165-gallon rain barrel system, including vent lines from each barrel.

My finished 165-gallon rain collection system!  I'm quite ridiculously proud of myself.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Cucamelon update

Well.  It's possible that my fears for the slow-growing cucamelon seedlings were unfounded.

This is the exact same plant I photographed yesterday.  It now has four sets of leaves, and more little curled up ones visible in the middle.

Cucamelon, with another set of leaves.

I guess once they get going, they really go!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Happy Solstice!

This is very exciting.  In this picture, you see five Black Krim tomatoes (the fifth one is still inside its calyx, to the right of the big one).

Black Krim tomatoes

With these five tomatoes, I will have exceeded my total tomato harvest for the past eight years.  At my old house, the deer were persistent and usually succeeded in nibbling my tomatoes down to stumps, even with a cobbled-together fence around them, and the plants could never make enough headway to actually produce fruit.  There wasn't a good garden spot, and to be honest I just wasn't terribly motivated to build one at a rental house.  I didn't try tomatoes every year, but it was probably at least five or six of the eight years.

In all that time, I got four ripe tomatoes.  It was frustrating.

But now, NOW, I will have tomatoes!  The Black Krim has seven fruiting branches already, and the Amish Paste has six!  And they are not nibbled!

And look, the Amish Paste tomatoes are getting big too!

Amish Paste tomatoes

I spent a little time out there yesterday, and finally got the tomatoes staked and pruned.  I had left this a little late for the Black Krim and Amish Paste- they should have been attended to several weeks ago (or when I planted them, actually, since they were already a foot tall), and were flopping all over the bed with suckers running wild.  Oh well.  They're staked now and most of their suckers have been removed.

I left one big sucker on the Black Krim and two on the Amish Paste, so that I'll get bigger yields than if I had pruned them to just one stem.  I just tied the suckers to the same stake as the main stem.

I am SO EXCITED for ripe tomatoes!

Tomatoes, safely pruned and staked, plus volunteer sunflower

You can also see the volunteer sunflower there in the tomato bed.  Definitely NOT a lemon cucumber! D'oh!  That'll teach me to make snap judgements on seedling identity, based solely on the cotyledons.

Other excitement in the garden includes the first blooms on the Jackmanii clematis opening today.  These are such a beautiful deep purple.

Clematis jackmanii flowers opened today!

The sugar snap pea harvest continues.  I think we've gotten about six quarts of peas so far, but it's hard to tell for sure when we're out there grazing all the time.  I know for sure that there are four quarts in the freezer.

Emma likes to eat the components of the peas separately.  First one side of the pod, then the peas, then the other side of the pod.

Peas in pods

The freesia is also developing well, and a second flower spike has formed.  This was a bag of mixed colors, and I can't wait to see what these turn out to be.

Freesia buds

The daylilies have started to open, an old-fashioned favorite.


The blueberries continue to ripen.  We've had one little handful of ripe berries already, but they disappeared too fast to be photographed.

Oh, and I may or may not have bought three more blueberry bushes a couple weeks ago....


The Tomato Annex is going well, and I'm headed up there to do some staking and pruning this evening after it cools down a bit.  Six of the plants are flowering!  The ones in the back two rows are the ones I started from seed, and are still looking pretty puny, though they are growing.

The Tomato Annex 6.21.15

The Basil Annex is looking great, though I apparently forgot to take a picture when we were up there this morning.  The plants have been pinched back twice and are getting nice and bushy.

The cucumbers are growing well, and have female flowers with little proto-fruits!  Hooray!

Future cucumbers!

Back in my yard now, and here's another experiment we're trying.  This is a cucamelon (Melothria scabra), also called Mexican sour gherkin or mouse melon, which is a new plant for me.  I saw these on Pinterest, and lemminged along and ordered some seeds.  The fruit looks like a tiny (1" long) watermelon and it supposedly tastes like a lime-flavored cucumber.

I started these seeds indoors in early April, and they are taking f.o.r.e.v.e.r. to do anything. This is the biggest of my three plants, and it's still only 1/2 inch tall with three tiny sets of leaves.  I'm hoping that now that we're into hot weather they will start growing.  If we get fruit off these this year it'll be a miracle.

Cucamelon sprout.

The yellow snapdragon in the barrel has started blooming,

Beware the dragons

and Emma's black petunia is going strong.  This is a pretty flower, and makes a nice contrast.

Emma's black petunia

It's been a hot day today, into the low 90s, but it was quite pleasant in the breezy shade.  I read a book on the deck, and Emma the Garden Artist (and Coco) enjoyed the lawn.

Garden artist

Friday, June 19, 2015

All better.

The mint transplantation was successfully accomplished yesterday afternoon.  Peppermint on the left, chocolate mint on the right.  I'm cautiously optimistic that no pieces of chocolate mint were left behind- I excised a large chunk of soil from the half barrel to try and avoid breaking off any buried pieces of stem.

Now they can go as wild as they want.  The bigger the better, in fact.  Both these mints are great in tea, and I will be drying as much as possible.

Repotted mint. All better.

We filled the bare spots in the half barrels with a cheap six-pack of red and purple annual salvia (on the left with the Jackmanii clematis) and a cheap Salvia farinacea 'Victoria Blue' (on the right with the Princess Diana clematis). Victoria Blue is listed as a tender perennial (Zones 7-10), but has been reported to sometimes overwinter farther north (and/or self-seed).  I'm in Zone 6a, so we'll see.

Mint removed, salvia added. All better.

It's a big relief to have the mint out of there.  I actually had a nightmare about rampant mint in the wee hours of yesterday morning.  It was growing up through the floor, the drain in my kitchen sink, and covering my counter.  I kept picking it and making tea as fast as I could, but it was growing faster than I could pick and was wrapping around my arms.  I woke up in a cold sweat.

My subconscious is perhaps a tiny bit overdramatic.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The problem with mint...

The problem with mint is that it's so aggressive and invasive.  I know this about the plant.  I thought I was prepared for it.  Ah, hubris.

Chocolate mint poised to run amok.

This is my chocolate mint.  I planted it in this half barrel on May 18, exactly one month ago.  It was in a 3-inch pot and had 5 stems showing above ground, with all foliage completely contained within the diameter of its 3-inch pot. 

Judging from the amount of growth it's shown in the past month, the $1 plant I bought was approximately 15 minutes old at the time of purchase.

The red arrows are pointing to the subterranean stealth runners that are spreading throughout the planter.  The one in the top right quadrant is particularly horrifying.  The stem of the runner is fully a quarter inch in diameter, and sprouting a new shoot every quarter inch or so.  It's eight inches long, and was not there on Sunday.

The chocolate mint will be coming out of the half barrel this afternoon.  It will go into its own pot, because children who do not play nicely with others have to be separated.

The peppermint in the planter next door is also spreading, but this one isn't quite as frightening.

Only slightly better-behaved peppermint.

It's spreading, but its runners are above ground and I can see where they are.  This plant also started out as 3 inches in diameter a month ago, and is now approximately 14 inches in diameter.

Actually, come to think of it, this will be put into its own pot this afternoon, as well.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Pickin' peas!

We picked three quarts of peas after work this afternoon!

Three quarts of peas!

Wishful thinking on a Wednesday morning

All I want to do is stay home and sit on my deck and sip a mug of peppermint and lemon verbena tea and read a book and dig in the dirt and look at my flowers and smile at the hummingbirds buzzing around and watch my tomatoes grow.

I love my house.

Alas, off I go to work.  Pesky job.

'Doone Valley' thyme
'Doone Valley' thyme